Peter Kennedy’s The Photographs’ Story: the dialectical image as research

John Hughes

This essay is a slightly modified version of a book chapter in Craig Batty and Susan Kerrigan (editors) “Screen Production Research: Creative Practice as a Mode of Inquiry”, Palgrave, UK.


Life is lived forward, but is understood backward, Kierkegaard, 1843

1. Introduction

Ross Gibson has contributed astute observations about creative practice as research and its relationship with art and the academy. Cherishing art, and the experience of encountering art as a form of knowledge, Gibson argues that at this moment in history it is “too soon” to demand the academy adapt its institutional and conceptual practices to acknowledge this ‘art as knowledge’, because scientists and politicians will not accept it. No argument there. Yet, there is something to be said for ‘demanding the impossible’, it sustains indispensible critique. Gibson points out that despite this impediment to change in the academy “the linguistic explanation of the experimental process involved in investigating a problem [the result of which is the art work] is essential to creative practice as research.” (Gibson 2015: 69-79). At this particular juncture in the ubiquitous reconfiguring of political economies and patterns of reception of art, entertainment and the moving image, certain forms of creative practice (e.g. the creative documentary, experimental film and video, the ‘essay film’) are seeking asylum and migrating from the cinema and broadcasting, carving out discursive space in gallery settings and the academy, where they are welcomed, as long as they learn the language, and to varying degrees, conform. “The linguistic explanation”, let’s say the exegesis, and the force of its common law, can become a kind of Derridean supplement to creative practice “it adds only to replace” (Derrida 1997: 145), just as the dominance of ‘theory’ for a period during the 1980s reconfigured former curatorial practice, shifting power in favor of institutional authority. As the academy itself becomes increasingly subject to the ravages of neo-liberal managerialism, integrated afresh into reconstituted global markets, a structural tendency develops encouraging a thinning of creative expression. Fearful in its reluctance to engage in plain language with contemporary social experience, it relies instead for its legitimacy on scholarly erudition and compliance with institutional conventions and demands.

Creative practice as research in moving image and sound has been, for several generations of moving image artists in Australia, central to their methodologies and works, since at least the 1960s. Examples would include Bindi Cole, Merilyn Fairskye, Sue Ford, Ross Gibson, John Gillies, Helen Grace, John Hansen, Lyndal Jones, Peter Kennedy, TV Moore, Kate Murphy or Randall Wood. Creative practice as research in quite different terrains could be demonstrated through attention to the oeuvre of any one of these artists. Here I focus on Peter Kennedy’s recent work, as it is richly illustrative of the manner in which formal strategies in moving image installation can be understood as research. Kennedy’s work is iterative; it frequently references its sources; it has been nurturing and extending a repertoire of research through sound and the moving image from the early 1970s to the present day.1

Kennedy was one of the founders of Inhibodress (1970-1972), the short-lived but highly significant Sydney artists’ collective established in a disused factory site that previously housed the Hibodress Blouse Company (Haese 2011:173). In 1971 art critic Robert Hughes famously announced that the “body artists and video freaks” at Inhibodress were the only thing of value going on in Australian art (Cramer 1989:61; Thoms 2013: 416). News of feminist performance art from America reached Australia with an exhibition curated by Kennedy (‘Trans-art 3 Communications’, Inhibodress 1973); this was the first comprehensive documentation of political performance shown here. (Marsh 1993: 168) In an insightful catalogue essay for ‘Requiem for Ghosts’ (ACCA 1988), recalling neon works from the 1970s, Juliana Engberg described Kennedy as “one of Australia’s most important experimenters with light and sound performances”. (Engberg 1988:8) Despite this local knowledge art historians Anne Marsh and Nancy Underhill have noted the relatively ‘unmapped’ status of his contribution to international contemporary art practice.

Although Kennedy has been one of Australia’s most innovative artists for thirty years and has created iconic visual documentation of contemporary artistic and social unrest, he remains virtually without his own public history […] Kennedy’s work seldom fits neatly into the categories that critics and theorists find useful. (Underhill 2000: 99-100)

His oeuvre mobilizes radical political insight with richly complex formal strategies. Research interrogating history, politics, art practice and modernity are articulated in layered, personally inflected creative works, particularly installations, infused in their treatments with what Kennedy’s calls the ‘poetic’. In what follows I am interested in exploring the degree to which this poetic, sufficiently valorized, might prove a vehicle of critical insight and method countering both the all enveloping abstraction, and the utilitarian pragmatism regulating that complex system ‘the culture industry’, with which the academy is an active partner.

Lyndal Jones draws on and her own creative practice with an aesthetic of the erotic and ‘kinaesthetics’, and citing Teresa Brennan (1995) seeks to restore agency to to creative practice in the research domain through the notion of ‘propositions’. For Jones a creative proposition is:

an offering eschewing analysis and the illustration of intention […] art that is propositional seeks to establish relationships between the work and viewer beyond, or outside, analytic comprehension […] it engages all the senses plus language into a synthesis that is neither rational nor necessarily conscious. It is irreducible but nonetheless crucial (my emphasis). (Jones, 2009:82, 85)

The AEAF (Australian Experimental Art Foundation) in Adelaide recently staged a retrospective of some of Kennedy’s early work alongside the presentation of new projects in an exhibition ‘Resistance: Peter Kennedy’, curated by Matthew Perkins. This exhibition affords an opportunity to reflect on Kennedy’s works as a series of propositions regarding creative practice as research. Kennedy exhibited at the EAF in the 1970s. During a visit to Adelaide in November 1976 he discovered the body of a dead man in the Torrens River. Shortly after this gruesome discovery, a bird fell dead from a cloudless sky, striking Kennedy on the back of the head as it fell to earth. This ‘city of churches’ with its dark underside and its experimental art scene must carry some curious resonances for Kennedy. His recent EAF show in Adelaide (June 3, 2016 – July 9, 2016) comprised three rooms of moving image works including new digital adaptations from 1970s video – both documentation of performance and conceptual works made for video, e.g. Body Concert Part 2: Extended (1971-2015) and Fugue (1971-2015). New, multi-screen moving image works occupying two gallery spaces: The Photographs’ Story (2004-2016) and Small Tales and True: A Short Story in Four Parts (2005-11)2. The early works included in the exhibition were made and exhibited on black and white reel-to-reel video in 1971 at a time when the moving image was first demanding legitimacy as art practice in gallery settings; these are ground breaking works of Australian contemporary art.

While Sydney’s famous Trotskyist revolutionary and bookseller Bob Gould was facing obscenity charges for selling Aubrey Beardsley posters at his Third Word Bookshop, with the Sydney Filmmakers’ Co-operative screening independent and experimental cinema in the rooms above, the Yellow House gallery building its reputation for hippie happenings, Inhibodress, more concerned with emerging international experiments in non-object art, performance art, art language and political art activism, was dedicated to ‘demonstrating ideas’.3

Matthew Perkins catalogue for the 2016 AEAF show commenting on Video Tapes 1971 notes that “video and performance art emerged in the late 1960s as practices of resistance: to the status quo of the art object and its relation to the market and to the political and social paradigms of the day.” While an avant-garde promising revolution via transgression is something of a modernist myth, the recovery of these tapes is a marvel.4 They illustrate some of the experimental strategies Kennedy created for research concerned with aesthetic responses to sound, vision and ‘new media’ technologies and processes thereby expanding the boundaries of art as a category and subverting its conventional complicity with the market.

Filmmakers associated with the Sydney Filmmakers Cooperative, Ian Stocks and Aggie Read, documented performances by Kennedy and another Inhibodress founder Mike Parr on quarter-inch video and 16mm film. These included experiments such as: light a candle and hold your finger in the flame for as long as possible, etc. These ‘actions’ tested, among other questions, the relationship between art spectatorship and non-object art. The research agenda was affect – dissolving classical distanced, aesthetic responses to the art object in favor of engagement and complicity. For underground filmmaker Albie Thoms – closely associated with The Yellow House – these works reflected “Mike’s exhibitionistic masochism”. Mike Parr considered it “anxious existential action.” (Marsh 1993: 37)

Let a friend bite into your shoulder until blood appears was performed in the gallery with Peter biting into Mike as Ian and Aggy filmed […] twenty-three [of these works] were assembled into a film later released as Idea Demonstrations. (Thoms 2012: 412)

In hold a movie camera at arms length…until the camera falls from your grip anticipates the ubiquity of the ‘selfie’ by at least 40 years. Parr shoots himself in close-up, increasingly strained –the ‘movie camera’ – no mobile phone – is a heavy hand wind-Bolex (pictured in Perkins 2014:26-7). Idea Demonstrations (1972) creates experimental, conceptual performance works exercising the affordances and limits of the recording apparatus. In one proposition Kennedy steps out the parameters of the camera’s field of vision on the gallery floor. On sound is cinematographer Aggy Read guiding Kennedy’s movements so the toes of his shoes circumnavigate the 4X3 picture field of the 16mm frame: “move your foot forward a bit […] feet together, beautiful.” The comedic dimension of these sorts of experiments reemerges in more recent Kennedy pieces.

Another scene (first performed in 1971) has Kennedy gradually obscuring the camera’s capacity to register an image as he peers into the lens, determinedly covering it with layer after layer of transparent tape. It’s the literal imagistic erasure of the romantic figure of the artist, a ‘death of the author’ style suicide.5 In one simple action on film both the performer and the recording apparatus are slowly erased.

However the strips of tape used have previously been covering the in-camera microphone, so as the image disappears, sound of the action becomes audible. Perhaps this too is prophetic of how important sound, and the suggestion of sound, would become in Kennedy’s works.

3. The Photographs’ Story

In summary, the object of my work […] since the 1970s, has been to produce an art that speaks clearly, although paradoxically not in a familiar language, about the time in which my art was made.

Peter Kennedy (in Marsh 1998:2)

Large projected moving images occupy the east, west and northern walls of the AEAF’s largest gallery space. Mounted on the southern wall as we enter the space we see a folded newspaper mounted in a frame. It’s a page from the Weekend Inquirer section of The Australian (June 28-29, 2003), folded to display a faded series of six color photographs, arranged in two rows of three. This is the artifact that has inspired, and – entering into the narrative conceit afforded by the work’s fundamental proposition – become a collaborator in the authorship of the work.


Figure 1: caption: Framed newspaper, folded (photo: John Hughes)


The image sequence depicts what appears to be a shooting death of a Palestinian child by Israeli forces. The images are frames from news camera coverage during a day of conflict in Gaza. They depict a series of moments as a twelve-year old boy crouches behind his father on a pavement, huddling behind a concrete tank or drum, seeking protection from gunfire exploding around them. In the last image the young boy has fallen onto the lap of the father, also collapsed. We can see just enough of the accompanying headline to discern a fragment of two words in big caps WHO SHOT.6 The question is raised, obscured and assigned a subsidiary status in relation to the image.

Each of the six pictures have been overlaid with graffiti-like marks, wrought with a blue marking pen. Words of a sort, one for each frame: “Me; da; Not; No; So; Shit e”. As we learn, they share their un-decidability with the images they annotate. These images and the uncertain, perhaps indecipherable texts inscribed upon them are each the inciting incident of two emotionally affecting, incommensurate and separate, yet linked narratives involving a father and a son. They constitute the dialectical image driving the work.

Turning away from this framed newspaper to attend to the three moving image projections that occupy the gallery walls we note the transposition of the newspaper images structural form echoed in the moving image works. Three large projections display six short films, each a little over six minutes in duration; as it were, two rows (rounds) of three (screens). The scale, sound design, narrative structure and screen composition draw the visitor into an immersive, yet questioning relationship with the
installation and its content; a spectatorship oscillating between curious, critical distance and immersive embodied engagement; a movement enhanced by both a narrative voice over and an intense percussive drumming.

We are invited into engagement with an installation essay film of six parts. Whether encountered sequentially or randomly the separate parts reflect and inform one another formally and narratively. There is a recursive quality reminiscent of the minimalist loops of Steve Reich in Kennedy’s returning imagistic repertoire playing out across the six sequences. Repeating patterns retuning to the same problem with the resolution of each loop feeding back into the next iteration. The work is ‘operatic’ in scale and affect, with its discursive narrative voice and intense pounding percussion (Alastair Kennedy drumming) a drumming we see performed. A woman’s voice (Jillian Murray Kennedy) delivers its ‘libretto’ with subtly and nuance. The authorial voice assumed is that of the photographs themselves. The screen compositions create a sense of theatrical tableau. The photographs one after another (the six frames) confide to the spectator their experience of being removed from a filing cabinet by the artist, stared at, and returned to their drawer:

Every so often he comes… a solitary visitor this father…and then…into the light we’re drawn…pulled out…put back…night again”. We see this scene illustrated on the screen, and then: “the writer who once said because things outlast us, they know more about us then we do about them – was right, we do… we who speak in silence […] we look through them from our side … (The Photographs’ Story 1: me)

With this trope animating The Photographs’ Story, Kennedy investigates the ontological status of the image, conferring it agency and a discursive sensibility reminiscent of the essayist conceit of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), or W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001)7 The photographs reflect on their historical identity and purpose, and offer astute observations of the artist, and the relationship between the artist and his son, the drummer. We learn it was the son some twelve years earlier as an 8 year-old child – footage of the 8-year old Alastair, drumming – who defaced the image displayed with these word-like marks.

Which had the effect of enticing his father to scrutinize us in an attempt – futile in our opinion – to reconcile his son’s words with his own measure of our effacement…for it was as if, in his mind, some truth resided therein. (The Photographs’ Story: 1: me)

The artist’s son’s annotation has created an abiding new work, an original that becomes the key image and the second moment – the antithesis – in Kennedy’s dialectical image, where the first moment is the newspaper photographs and the historical trigger they activate. The photographs’ narration discloses the father’s puzzlement, a distance, not unlike that distance between the thing and its mimesis. The image reflects on its “failure”, its incapacity to deliver certainty and truth, noting that in this it shares a radical disappointment with the artist who understands – quoting Beckett from Three Dialogues: “to be an artist is to fail as no other dare fail”.


The truth about this case will probably never be determined

James Fallows

To go back a little, to the first moment of this dialectical image – the historical events

giving rise to the problematic representation from which the work emerges. On Saturday June 30, 2000 – the second day of the second Intifada – aroused by Israel’s Likud leader Ariel Sharon’s provocative appearance at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Muslim holy site known to Islam as Haram al-Sharif – hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the village of Netzarim in occupied Gaza, along with TV crews, journalists and photographers. Demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers manning an outpost on the crossroads. There were Palestinian police present, armed with automatic weapons. Around 3.00 PM Mohammad Al-Dura and his father Jamal arrived at the scene, returning home from shopping.

The sequence of stills appear to show Mohammad, aged twelve, a bystander, shot and killed; the boy’s name and image quickly gathered epic significance, a key icon of Palestinian martyrdom and resistance. As the American invasion of Afghanistan moved to overthrow the Taliban following 9/11, Mohammad Al-Dura’s name was evoked by Osama bin Laden who demanded Bush “remember” him. Egypt issued a postage stamp deploying his image. Morocco named a park after him. His death came to epitomize Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Then, three years later, a lengthy essay by investigative journalist James Fallows published by The Atlantic Monthly (June 2003) based on close reading of video and forensic evidence challenged the substance of the story propagated around these events; “it now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world’s media”, Fallows wrote, “whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the days fighting” (Fallows 2003: 49).

Most of the day’s conflict was documented by a variety of TV crews. Fallows examined these rushes; noting the variety of moods and actions over the course of the day:

Only when these vignettes are packaged together as a conventional TV news report do they seem to have a narrative coherence. […] editing the footage for a news report, the scene acquired a clear story line […] Palestinians throw rocks, Israeli soldiers, from the slits in their outpost, shoot back. A little boy is murdered. (Fallows 2003; 50, 52)

Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma, shooting for France 2, captured the scene. He and the boy’s father Jamal have both said they believe Mohammad was killed by Israeli fire. Initially Israeli authorities agreed. The counter-narrative arose from the academy. Professor Garbriel Weimann – currently an ARC Fellow (2016-2019) studying ‘online violent extremist audiences in Australia and the United Kingdom – was teaching a course (National Security and Mass Media) at the Israeli Military Academy in which he used the al-Dura case in its received interpretation. A student challenged this story, denying Israeli fire was responsible, saying he was there when
these events took place. Weimann’s class re-examined the evidence, and because the physical infrastructure surrounding the crossroads had long been removed, an elaborate reconstruction was performed by IDF (Israeli Defence Forces). This IDF inquiry concluded that the concrete barrel protected the pair from Israeli fire; the shots must have come from the Palestinian position opposite them, a direction from which they had no protection. (The concrete barrel is the key – it is Kennedy’s drum.)

The liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, among others, in turn challenged these findings. Fallows says the IDF would not cooperate with his research and he was denied access to Weimann’s students’ report for reasons of “academic confidentiality”. Nahun Shahaf, who conducted the IDF investigation following Weimann’s initiative, says the whole story was manufactured: “a well staged production”; the boy was shot, or not, by Palestinians for propaganda purposes. A myriad of alternative stories about the boys fate continue to circulate. A television report by German documentary filmmaker Esther Schapira Drei Kugeln und ein totes Kind [Three bullets and a dead child] (2002) was inconclusive. (Schapira 2003:15) Fallows says the case illustrates “the increasingly chaotic ecology of truth around the world […] with the internet and TV, each culture now has a more elaborate apparatus for ‘proving’, dramatizing and disseminating its particular truth.” (Fallows 2003:56) This problematic is one facet of Kennedy’s inquiry with this work.

In The Photographs’ Story 2 da, this backstory is evoked by the voice of the second photograph:

The implication being that as a visual record, we lack veracity to rebut the arguments of those who deny that the boy was shot dead […] the truth of what we represent gets messed up […] times specified and shadows pictured…don’t match…don’t add up.

There can be no rest from the monstrous, over-determined indeterminacy that these images transmit; the shocking aftermath of the original trauma these photographs bear witness to. It was Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly article, condensed and illustrated with six frames from the TV coverage, that the Weekend Australian republished. This constellation, the death of a child by shooting, the images as record, the gap between the image as knowledge and the truth, the gap between their actuality as photographic
objects and their historical mimesis, that has become the first moment in the dialectical image Kennedy’s research conjures.

How inconclusive it now seems, our photographic grasp of death at the moment of its making […] There is a pause […] before the firing resumes… redirected now at the boy and his father […] pinned against a wall – they shelter behind the drum […] not long after that we go public and enter the world in a combination flowing ink and newsprint while on luminescent screens we are replayed frame by frame […] these moving images the journalist writes ‘are unforgettable… with each replaying of the tape hope arises anew… the boy will get himself down low enough, the shots will miss him…the shots will miss him’… (The Photographs Story 3 Not)

And so the antithesis, the second moment of Kennedy’s dialectical image, derives from a domestic scene in which the artist struggles to explain the images and the events depicted in the photographs to his 8-year old son; the photographs observe this scene. Later, alone with the newspaper and armed with a marking pen, the son Alastair delivers his commentary and his critique. This second moment therefore is constituted by another over-determined constellation; sons and fathers, shock, fear, injustice; incomprehension; and crucially the mark-up of the image; its’ annotation; the creation of a new work: “Me; da; Not; No; So; Shit e”


Figure 2 The Photographs’ Story, AEAF, June 2016 (still: Sam Roberts)



Linguistic signs [once excluded] prowled at a distance around the image […] introduced into the plenitude of the image, into its meticulous resemblance, a disorder.

Michel Foucault8 In October #1 (Spring 1976)

When Walter Benjamin collaborated with the Latvian revolutionary Asja Lacis in her projects for a Proletarian Children’s Theatre in the 1920s he became fascinated with children’s ‘mimetic improvisations’ – the way children re-invent themselves and their environment in make-believe play. Benjamin argued that in this “radical release of play” children escaped the spell of the commodity, they could ‘bring dead things to life’. The task of the Proletarian Children’s Theatre was to nurture these unconscious insights of the child-like imaginary. Kennedy here does likewise. He takes heart from the defaced image, building The Photographs’ Story around it, and creates his own ‘mimetic improvisation’ in giving the images voice.9

With this excellent graffiti Alastair contributes to a constellation of formal elements that recur in Kennedy’s works: a dialectic of word and image, the deployment of the ephemeral, the elaboration out of the personal and the particular to the historical, the political and the profound. Alastair’s graphic gesture returns the photographic series to its material status as picture plane, as canvas. The question of photography’s indexicality, its mediated but nonetheless concrete reproduction of what could once be seen, the believability of the photograph as visible evidence, this “seduction of the index” as Marsh calls it (Marsh 2014: 33) has exercised artists, photographers and theorists alike since the earliest appearance of the technology.

Just as Brecht remarked in the 1930s that the apparatus of the theatre was in control of the playwright, for Vilém Flusser, the photographic apparatus itself also has agency, assigning the photographer’s function to mediating feedback, so the apparatus can
improve itself. The apparatus and its products are “programming society to act as though under a magic spell for the benefit of cameras” (Flusser 2000: 48).

The camera will prove to be the ancestor of all those apparatuses that are in the process of robotising all aspects of our lives […] the existential interests of the material world are being replaced by symbolic universes and the value of things are being replaced by information. (Flusser 2000: 79-80).

Exploring these questions Kennedy deploys formal strategies including screen compositions offering frame-within-frame display with a hand held smart-phone (pro- filmic live-action, not composited screen design), setting portrait against landscape, conjuring the mobility of audio-visual technology that renders the global screen ubiquitous; “mourning becomes electronic at new global levels”. (Meek 1998)

“His boy, the drummer, and our graffitist […] his words ‘Me; da; Not; No; So; Shit e’ possess a truth that so affronts his father who remains blind to its presence…and it’s this blindness […] that can set loose a deeply felt fear of failure…a psychic state to which we, ourselves, are sympathetic – being as we are too familiar with our own failure to establish the truth of that which we claim to show.” (The Photographs’ Story 5 So)

Is the drummer Alastair “sheltering behind the drum”? Has the father in the Gaza strip “failed” to protect his son? Has the artist/father “failed” to protect his own son from being wounded by the images? Has the Gaza bullet travelled all this way? Does the image at this indeterminate distance (after Barthes) ‘wound’ all of us?

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag remarks:

Certain photographs […] can be used like memento mori, as objects of contemplation to deepen one’s sense of reality; as secular icons, if you will. But that would seem to demand the equivalent of a sacred or meditative space in which to look at them. Space reserved for being serious is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or a museum). (Sontag 2003:107)

Like Sontag, Flusser remarks on the reception of images of suffering. He says the spectator ‘just watches’ an image of horror on television, whereas with a newspaper the spectator might cut it out, or indeed disfigure it. However, although:

[the] last vestiges of materiality adhering to the photograph give rise to the impression that we are able to act in an historical way towards it. In fact [these actions] are nothing but ritual acts. The photograph […] is an image, which, as one’s gaze wanders over the surface, produces magical – not historical – relationships between the element of the image and the reader. (Flusser 2000: 60)

Kennedy has spent time thinking about mortality and the image, and making art in response to these meditations; The Photographs’ Story is in some ways the most recent. These meditations draw on the formal repertoire of earlier works and experiences (including the 1970s encounter on Adelaide’s River Torrens). Here in this new work, the death of the child crouching desperately in fear behind a concrete drum is memorialized, remembered. While permeated with intellectual pessimism, there is also ‘optimism of the will’ in this act of remembrance. Alastair Kennedy’s drumming, fierce, relentless, skilled, echoing in this context the sounds of automatic weapons, returns fire, keeping time. It’s a brilliant riposte to the propaganda image in general; the young drummer, far from Gaza, drumming. Right here, right now.


In the fields with which we are concerned, knowledge exists only in lighting flashes. The text is the thunder rolling long afterwards.

Walter Benjamin

In ‘The Author as Producer’ (1934) Benjamin emphasises the value of experiment, of organising research and production in ways that “adapt” the apparatus and “interrupt” the spectator’s consumption. He gives prominence to ‘linguistic explanation’ when he says that “changing the concert is impossible without the collaboration of the word” (Benjamin 1999: 776) while at the same time advising writers to learn photography, as by these means the cultural producer might “overthrow another of the barriers […] that fetter the production of intellectuals […] the barrier between writing and image.”10 (Benjamin 1999: 768-782)

On the one hand we are interested in engaging the academy with the nature of our research and the unfamiliar language with which we seek ‘lightning strikes’, on the other hand we wish to draw on academic tradition in giving prominence to linguistic explanation, the ‘thunder rolling afterwards’. The exegesis is more systematically argued, more empirical; it’s loyalty is to the word. The creative practice is poetic, speculative; it’s loyalty is to the image. The ‘wetted axe of reason’ when brought to bear inside the academy has a double edge. Reconfiguring what Gibson calls ‘art’ and Kennedy ‘the poetic’ into modes of discourse compliant within academic boundaries may refashion research in ways that accommodate or appropriate ‘art’ into the discipline of established authority. The ‘poetic dimension’ of a work of art is the heart of its critical knowledge and the vehicle for its transmission. This is why Benjamin’s experimental philosophical method critiquing the cultural epoch in which he lived and the historiography that helped conjure complacency, was of necessity an unorthodox and unfamiliar language, the language of the dialectical image, a poetic.


See Kennedy’s website for reference to his films, moving image works and exhibition

This latter work is a strangely uncanny disjointed narrative in which a burglar narrates varying accounts of home invasions; when challenged his excuses are far- fetched and implausible. It’s an experiment with night vision cinematography and six- channel storytelling. Kennedy: “It’s a bit like the role of photography […] as the stealer of images and stories” (in Llewellyn 2016:35)

Kennedy has described in shorthand the difference between the Yellow House and Inhibodress, designating the former as “West Coast hippie” and the latter as “East Coast Contemporary art” (Kennedy interviewed by Anne Marsh, 2011)

Thanks to veteran archivist and scholar Stephen Jones and post-production by filmmaker William Head, who also did post-production of The Photographs’ Story (2016).

The artist’s reference for this work was Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic stories involving narrators bricking themselves, their pets or their colleagues behind walls.

An aside: another obliquely related reference inserts itself into the constellation. The top right hand corner of The Australian announces ‘George Orwell: how he turned into Big Brother’ (This article documents Orwell’s betrayal of colleagues, Communists and suspected Communists to the British MI5 in the early Cold War years), as if to remind us of Benjamin’s observation in ‘Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ how the collage of unrelated news items juxtaposed in the daily newspaper mirrors the ‘shock’ affect of traumatic modern experience. (Benjamin on Baudelaire in Illuminations pp. 155-200) Here, the ‘collage’ directs our attention according to the program of the Murdoch Press.

In a beautiful essay teasing out a nuanced account of the figure of the ‘aura’ in Benjamin, Miriam Hansen Bratu cites Proust’s mémoire involontaire and Benjamin’s various affirmations of ‘things looking back’; Valéry’s “The things I look at see me just as much as I see them” etc., Hansen writes “the image of the seer seen [is familiar] in Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and Lacan […] Whether conceptualized in terms of constitutive lack, split or loss this other gaze in turn confronts the subject [with] the expectation that the gaze will be returned”. (Hansen 2008: 337-8)

Foucault, Michel October #1 (Spring 1976)

Alastair has appeared in earlier Kennedy works (e.g. AJK at the wall of ghosts, Sutton Gallery (Melbourne), 2000) but this is the first with such creative participation and impact.

John Heartfield (1891-1968) is Benjamin’s exemplary instance. ‘The Author as Producer’ was prepared as an address for the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, but never presented or published during Benjamin’s lifetime.


Barthes, Roland 1984 Camera Lucida, London, Fontana

Beilharz, Peter 1998 ‘Departures and Arrivals’ catalogue essay in Requiem for Ghosts, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Benjamin, Walter 1999 (1934): ‘The Author as Producer’ (trans. Edmund Jephcott) in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Volume 2 1927-1934, Harvard University Press pp. 768-782

Benjamin, Walter 1973 (1939) ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ (trans. Harry Zorn), Illuminations, Fontana pp.155-200
Benjamin, Walter 1989 ‘N [Re: the theory of knowledge, theory of progress]’ (trans.Leigh Hafrey and Richard Sieburth) in Smith (ed.) 1989 Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, Chicago, University of Chicago Press pp.43-83

Bollas, Christopher 2009 The Evocative Object World, London, Routledge

Brennan, Teresa 1995 History After Lacan, London Routledge

Cramer, Sue 1989 Inhibodress 1970-1972 exhibition catalogue Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane

Costello, D. and Willsdon, D., 2008 Life and Death of Images: Ethics and Aesthetics London Tate

Cumming, John 2014 The films of John Hughes; a history of independent screen production in Australia, Melbourne, Atom

Derrida, Jacques 1997 (1967) Of Grammatology, (trans. Chakravorty Spivak) Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press

Engberg, Juliana 1998 ‘…And…’ catalogue essay Requiem for Ghosts, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Fallows, James 2003 ‘Who shot Mohammed Al-Dura?’ 2003, Vol. 291:5 pp. 49-56

Flusser, Vilém 2000 (trans., Anthony Mathews) Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London, Reaktion

Gibson, Ross 2015 Changescapes: Complexity Mutability Aesthetics, Crawley WA UWAP Scholarly, University of WA

Hansen, Miriam Bratu 2008 ‘Benjamin’s aura’ Critical Inquiry 34 (Winter 2008) pp. 336-375

Haese, Richard 2011 Permanent Revolution: Mike Brown and the Australian Avant- Garde 1953-1997 Melbourne, Miegunyah Press. MUP

Hogenkamp, Bert, 1977 ‘Workers Newsreels in the 1920 and 1930s’, Our History: 68, History group of the Communist Party, London

Jones, Lyndal 2009, ‘Ways of Proposing’ in Grierson, Elizabeth et. al. (eds.) Creative Arts Research: Narratives of Methodologies and Practices, Rotterdam, Sense Publishing pp.75-6

Kennedy, Cramer 1989, Peter Kennedy interviewed by Sue Cramer in Inhibodress 1970-1972, Institute of Modern Art Brisbane

Llewellyn, Jane 2016 ‘Experimental Resistance’ Adelaide Review, June 20, 2016 pp.35 < experimental-resistance/>

Marsh, Anne 1993 Body and Self: Performance art in Australia 1969-92 London, Oxford University Press
Fallows, James 2003 ‘Who shot Mohammed Al-Dura?’ 2003, Vol. 291:5 pp. 49-56 The Atlantic Monthly, June

Marsh Anne, 2011 ‘Poetics, politics and silent music: Peter Kennedy interviewed by Marsh, Anne 2011 ‘Unmapped: the political dialogue of an artist’ < > (Accessed July 13, 2016)

Marsh, Anne 2014 Performance_Ritual_Document, Melbourne, Macmillan
Meek, Allen 1998 ‘Benjamin, the televisual and the “fascistic subject”’ Screening the Past < > downloaded December 1998

Perkins, Matthew (ed.) 2014 Video Void: Australian Video Art, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing

Perkins, Matthew 2016 ‘Resistance: Peter Kennedy: Curated by Matthew Perkins’ Catalogue notes, AEAF Adelaide (, accessed July 8, 2016)

Perelman, Marc, ‘French court takes a fresh look at Intifada’s most violently disputed image, Forward, New York September 28, 2007: A1, A8

Sebald, W. G. 2001 Austerlitz London Penguin

Schapira, Esther, 2003 ‘letter to the editor’ The Atlantic Monthly, September 2003 p. 15 [see also>

Smith, Bernard 1993 ‘Chorus: From the Breath of Wings’ (catalogue essay) Museum of Modern Art at Heide

Sontag, Susan 2003 Regarding the Pain of Others, Penguin Hamish Hamilton Thoms, Albie 2012, My Generation, Sydney, Media 21 Publishing Underhill, Nancy, ‘Peter Kennedy; Breaking down the barriers’ Art & Australia 38:1 (Spring 2000) pp. 98-103

John Hughes, PhD, FAHA is a filmmaker and Adjunct Professor, School of Media
and Communication, RMIT University; Honorary Fellow, School of Film and Television, University of Melbourne and ARC Research Associate, Faculty of Art and Design, University of Canberra.
Films of John Hughes: a history of independent screen production in Australia (Cumming, 2014) is published by ATOM. Website: